A Year of Zapping: A Critical Guide for Italian Television Programs 2011-2012

A Year of Zapping: A Critical Guide for Italian Television Programs 2011-2012

Original Title: ed. Alessandra Caneva. Un anno di zapping. Guida critica ai programmi televisivi 2011-2012, Edizioni Magi, Roma 2012)

The Italian television market lacks a stable system that measures the quality of television programs that are broadcasted. There have been some isolated attempts, but they are few and were carried out mainly by the RAI through written questionnaires (VQPT, Verifica della Qualità dei Programmi Trasmessi) or telephone interviews (IQS, Indice di Qualità e Soddisfazione). There have also been commissions and self-regulatory codes introduced, meant to ensure the protection of minors. It is well known however, that what dominates the market of advertising investments—which is key to the current television system, unfortunately even for public channels—is Auditel, a system for quantitatively measuring audience.

No one is happy with this system (“the Auditel dictatorship” as it is commonly referred). Moreover, it has been criticized countless times for its lack of precision, even regarding the only parameter that it promises to measure. For example, one defect is that it does not take into account situations when the electronic device (the well known meter installed in the houses that agree to be part of the monitoring) memorizes minutes that the television is tuned-in to the channel, regardless of whether someone is watching or not. Another highly debated aspect regards whether the selected homes are a fair representation of the general population, according to the geographical region, number of children, social level, etc. Trying to verify if each member of every family follows the rules established by the analysts is an even more problematic issue. These rules include the necessity to mark one’s presence or absence in front of the TV, even if it is found already on, using the corresponding number on the remote control, at a certain distance that the company has established, along with the meter.

This “approximate-quantitative” system for measuring audience seems to have been accepted as the lesser evil, and few have provided concrete solutions to offer a complimentary qualitative measuring service. This in fact would be very useful for the same producers and advertising investors, but would prove to be even more essential for educators and parents.

The almost complete absence of this type of work can be understood not only because it would challenge the entire system (more than one high profile program would disappear from the screen), but also because of the difficulty involved in this type of evaluation. It requires a great number of expert analysts, a huge time commitment, and above all constancy. The first obstacle, for example, consists in establishing the various criteria for measuring quality, which have not been agreed upon in recent years by neither viewers nor scholars nor operators in the sector. Why, and depending on what factors, do we consider a program to be good? What scales can be established to judge quality? Who would be responsible for this evaluation: a representative sample of varied viewers, or better yet, a team of experts, parents, and educators?

Any initiative in this direction is therefore commendable, specifically the editorial project Moige (Movimento Italiano Genitori- Italian Parents’ Movement), which for the past five years has been trying to inform parents, educators and even television operators- through these “guides”- about the programs broadcasted in Italy during the time slot of child protection (from 7:00 AM to 11:30 PM).

The structure of the fifth edition is similar to previous ones, but there are novelties. Among the constant good attributes is the central part of the book, which unifies entertainment programs in alphabetical order, each with its introductory information (quantitative data about audience, time/day and channel of broadcast, genre, name of writers or main characters, etc.), its qualitative evaluation (with five scoring levels) and its suitability by age (ages 10, 12, 14, 18, or not advisable). The evaluation for each program always includes a lengthy review written by an expert in communications, education and/or psychology. This edition of the book also offers a glossary at the end, including the most important technical terms used in the reviews such as flashback, share, spin off, and many others.

On the other hand, one of the most important new features of this edition is the inclusion of two new sections, found close to where the book refers to entertainment programs. One of these sections is dedicated to cartoons with almost 40 titles, and the other is dedicated to advertisement, with a selection of 30 ads. Both have the same structure as the first, as well as an evaluation not only of their technical aspects, but above all, of their hidden messages that are even sometimes subliminal. They take account of the possible psychological effects these messages can have on an audience of children.

Not only are the evaluations expressed with a symbol next to each program (a red, yellow, or green traffic light close to the other symbols indicating quality) but comments are also added inside the reviews when the situation requires. This proves yet again the depth, seriousness, and usefulness of the Moige’s monitoring. The team of authors remains relatively stable despite a few variations. They are: Elisabetta Scala, who serves as project coordinator, due to her role as Director of the Moige's Osservatorio Media. Contributing this time as editor is Alessandra Caneva, a university professor of Creative Writing and writer of several successful TV series. Daniela Delfini collaborated once more. With a Bachelor of Arts in Film History, she has worked on many programs, not only in fiction, as both an author and a producer. Four others complete the team: the critic Francesco Dentici (a Bachelor in Educational Sciences with a Master in Multimedia Communications), Francesca Orlando (a Psychotherapist and the author of several books), Maria Carlotta Quintilliani (author and painter, a graduate in Art History) and Maria Isabella Quintilliani (a graduate in Psychological Studies and Techniques, collaborator on many programs about childhood, and an expert in children's playwriting).

The book's prologue is written by Anna Oliverio Ferraris, a Professor of Developmental Psychology at the “Sapienza” University of Rome. She explains the purpose of dedicating a part of the guide to advertising. “Communication...is a complex and multiform reality,” she writes, “it contains explicit, evident aspects, as well as hidden, implicit aspects. We are conscious of the first, but not always of the second. Both however, are types of messages that reach our mind and activate our emotions.... I hope that this guide from Moige can have an impact on both advertisers and those in charge of television programming.”

Perhaps there is only one difficulty in the guide, and it is in fact, purely formal. In order to maintain structural and esthetic coherence, space for the reviews was limited to one page per program. Consequently, the body of letters is greatly diminished, and this could prove too short for certain readers. Likewise, the colors (green on yellow) could be more difficult to read in comparison with the earlier editions.